A small article from The Hill caught my attention Friday evening, because it illustrates how complex the federal appropriations puzzle really is. The Congressional Black Caucus is upset after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel promised Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm disaster relief in exchange for her support of the (soon-to-be filibustered) small-business bill. The CBC is miffed because the administration is stonewalling them on the settlement of Pigford v. Glickman:
Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to President Obama on Thursday calling on him to find a way to compensate black farmers who suffered discrimination in government loan programs during the 1980s and 1990s.
…the administration has told black farmers it lacks the funds to pay a $1.2 billion agreement they reached with the Department of Agriculture in 1999 to settle the Pigford class-action lawsuit.
The lawmakers say that Obama should also take administrative action to pay $3.4 billion the federal government promised to settle claims that it mismanaged Native American trust funds. Elouise Cobell is the lead plaintiff in the case against the Interior Department.
Lincoln’s $1.5 billion was originally part of the small-business bill and was later removed in a vain effort to curry Republican support.
What does this have to do with defense spending?
Today, President Obama signed the FY 2010 War Supplemental, sending $37.1 billion of funding to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill as passed contains over $21 billion in spending unrelated to the wars. However, the House added two amendments with an additional $22.8 billion (fully offset) that were later eliminated by the Senate. Included in this was $4.6 billion dollars to settle the aforementioned Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, as well as another, Cobell v. Salazar.
The inclusion of a final Pigford v. Glickman settlement in the House amendments was a significant victory for the CBC, but illustrates the sometimes paradoxical nature of the appropriations process. Discrete, unrelated items become uncomfortably mashed together or linked in the strangest ways: the war supplemental (which campaign-Obama promised never to sign) contains farm subsidies and veterans compensation. At one point it also included education funding and Pell grants, summer jobs funding, border security money, and federal discrimination and mismanagement lawsuit settlements.
These various causes are but a tiny fraction of the total yearly federal budget, and yet it seems jarring that we should be discussing funding for waging war in the same breath as educating our children and helping farmers. These are incompatible ideas, linked only by their roles as slices of the federal pie in a system where the competition never ends.